Attorneys paint a picture of neglect by an area rancher in the deaths of over one-hundred horses in Burleigh and Morton counties at a petition hearing today.
They're asking Judge Bruce Romanick to force owner Bill Kiefer to turn over ownership of the horses to the local sheriff's departments.
The animals would then be adopted or sold.
Kiefer did not show up at today's hearing citing a prior commitment. But eight witnesses for the state told one gut wrenching story after another.
The story of these horses began to come to light last December. A New Salem veterinarian told Kiefer what he needed to do to care for the malnourished animals.
"Part of our recommendation was to sell some of the horses...as far as further feeding we told him to try to spread them out further to try to improve feed access , says Dr. Dale Householder.
According to witnesses, little changed in a month.
In late January the Morton County sheriff's department discovered 96 dead horses. In one case, a stack of 25 hidden from view.
"These would be horse carcases that had been essentially drug over a hill I'm guessing?, says Jackson Lofgren. "I suspect that they were put there based on how they were laying. I suspect they were just put there by the horse owner," says Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman. "And these were not visible from the road?" "No."
Several witnesses talked of horses eating tree bark and fence posts, and wooden boards.
"They don't accept in extreme situations actually eat through the panels?" asked Lofgren. "Honestly I don't think I've ever seen anything this extreme as far as the pictures, so it's unusual," says State Veterinarian Dr. Susan Keller.
There is also evidence the animals fought each other for what food there was.
"Almost all the horses had several, multiple bites particularly to their faces. some on their necks and bodies and I did notice two that had some cuts on their legs, one in particular was pretty bad," says Alison Smith from Triple-H Horse Rescue.
Judge Romanick has ten days to decide on the petition request. All agree the remaining horses will be cared for until the decision is made.
Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Jeff Ubben says they will decide soon whether or not to file criminal charges.
He says the first priority is to take care of the remaining horses.
25 in the worst shape had been taken to Triple-H Horse Rescue. Three of those have died, including one last night.